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Canon IXUS 285 HS review



Way back in September 2005 I purchased my first ever “proper” camera, an ultra-compact Pentax Optio S5z, 5 megapixel on 1/2.5″ sensor, 3× optical zoom (35.6–107 mm equivalent focal length), metal-bodied at 83 × 55 × 22 mm in size and 120 g in weight with battery and SD card. The objective was the best compromise between ergonomics, pocketability and quality.

I don’t know just how poor a choice it was, as I have no experience with any of its competitors. I can only say two things: after years of use and abuse it’s no longer in acceptable working order, and the picture quality was never very good. The lens assembly is internally contaminated, which ruins the already dismal output, and the controls are failing. I was however pleased with the ergonomics—the size, weight, control placement, user interface etc—and hoped to find a modern equivalent with which to replace it. By 2023, when I finally went looking for a new model, the choices were very limited. The IXUS 285 HS disappeared from online stores while I was considering it, and it was the last model left in its class (20 to 25 mm thick with superzoom). All the other small cameras were very limited in specification or from from unknown brands of highly doubtful pedigree. That left only the next size up (30 to 45 mm thick). However, Canon seem to be making the IXUS 285 HS in small batches: their own online store still reads only “Out of stock online” and offers to “Email me when back in stock”. After two failed attempts—where all the new stock was snapped up too quickly—I succeeded in obtaining one for myself in July 2023. (For how long they will still be available for purchase I cannot say.)

Was this the right choice? Did I make another terrible mistake? I’ve been using the camera now for six months and have passed the 5000-photo mark (and the 6000 mark), so the 2023 Christmas break seems a good time to write up my experience.

It’s realistically too late to review such an old model, but perhaps the matters addressed herein might prove useful with helping people consider their options or in reviewing upcoming models. I’ve learnt a lot from using this camera that seems to never come up in reviews, and this itself should be a hint to others to consider the matters that the reviews do not.

I should point out that I have not reviewed every setting and every feature, or even close to it. This review is not an exhaustive attempt to test the camera’s behaviour; rather, it is simply a reflection of how it has handled the tasks that I’ve set it over the last six months, and is based on notes that I collected during this time. It should not be taken as definitive or complete, but rather in conjunction with other reviews, as everyone approaches the matter differently. (Indeed, most of the reviews of the Optio S5z were positive and it was in part on the strength of those reviews that I chose it, only to find afterwards a more comprehensive review that accurately showed up its shortcomings!)

As a note, most photos are scaled to 2560×1920, to keep the file size down. The comparison samples however are all the original images from each camera.

Why not a smartphone?

The reason for the IXUS being the last ultra-compact superzoom camera seems reasonably clear: anyone serious about photography is content with a heavy object hanging around their neck on a strap and everyone else is content with their smartphone.

The amount of people looking for a comfortably pocketable camera with a decent amount of optical zoom may have always been marginal; you would have to separately research the extent to which a high level of zoom was deemed desirable by the target market of each model of compact camera. Even zoomed in to only 300 mm focal length, an arms-out camera is very difficult to frame as your hands are too wobbly; to steady the camera against your face you need an electronic viewfinder (EVF) and those demand a larger camera. Canon don’t even offer those: you need to go Panasonic or Sony for that.

For my purposes, a significant amount of zoom is both important and helpful. The 3× optical zoom on the Optio was always a frustrating limit, and even the 12× zoom on the IXUS is not ideal: there is always something interesting just far enough away to be outside of the zoom range, and always something that you are not able to physically get close enough to, especially from public footpaths.

I have no personal experience of how smartphones deal with matters such as EV compensation, white balance control, macro range selection or any of the other options offered on a camera, beyond finding the iPhone 6 too limited. Smartphones are also not designed to be held and operated as a camera.

While the camera optics in smartphones are impressive, for now I will simply say that optical zoom is the criterion on which they are positively ruled out, regardless of my feelings towards mobile phones.

Form and operation

The IXUS is small. You get 20 megapixel on a 1/2.3″ sensor and 12× optical zoom (25–300 mm equivalent focal length) in a compact form at a mere 99.6 × 58 × 22.8 mm. It’s wider than the Optio; this extra width gives you space for a larger screen, up from 62 mm (just under 2.5″) on the Optio to 75 mm (just under 3″).

IXUS 285 HS as seen by the Optio S5z:

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IXUS 285 HS: front, powered up
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IXUS 285 HS: display and controls
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IXUS 285 HS: front, powered off

For comparison, the Optio S5z as seen by the IXUS 285 HS:

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Optio S5z: front, powered up
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Optio S5z: display and controls
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Optio S5z: front, powered off

The Optio S5z places the Play (preview) and zoom buttons under your thumb. For many years I felt that this was the only way for me, and that the more common ring zoom was a mistake. In practice, I have no trouble with the ring zoom. Having Play as a button is good, as Panasonic sometimes used a slide switch that is not a good idea.


The choice of controls is confusing. A Wi-Fi button consumes space on the back panel, implying that rapid transfer of images wirelessly was deemed higher importance than camera operation.

The Optio has a Green button. Out of the box it toggles Green Mode (fully automatic, versus program mode), but it can instead be configured to call up a menu of up to four settings, selected by the four dual-purpose control/direction buttons. I ended up assigning automatic exposure region to Up, white balance to Left and EV compensation to Down.

The IXUS has nothing of the sort. Every adjustment requires tediously navigating through the settings menu. When leaving and re-entering the settings menu you do get returned to the last-selected setting, so long as the camera remains on; switch it off and back on and the settings menu reverts to Rec. Mode. Since EV compensation is one setting down, it’s all too easy to enter the recording mode menu by mistake and get confused.

(EV compensation has a point of confusion of its own: you press Up for a lower value/darker pictue, and Down for a higher value/brighter picture, the opposite to the Optio and the opposite to what I would naturally expect. I thought that I would get used to this, but I have not.)

The Optio also allows you to choose which settings are retained on power off and which are not. The IXUS retains them all.

Although I have acclimatised to the control layout, the Optio has a far better control system. The larger models from Panasonic add something that would be interesting to play with: they have a pretend focus ring that can be assigned to other functions such as EV compensation. With that said, EV compensation is really a crutch for 1/2.3″ sensors, and proper APS and full-frame sensors should have far less need for such a compromise. How well a 1″ sensor copes is another question.

Another irritation is the shutter button. This is a conventional double-action microswitch. Stage two of such switches can have a surprisingly high level of force. For example, looking at the specifications for old Alps elastic contact switches, they show 280 gf (275 cN) for the stage two operating force for model KHF10901 and 550 gf (539 cN) stage two operating force for KHF10903, versus 90 gf (88 cN) stage one operating force.

The shutter button on the IXUS has too little operating force for stage two, meaning that once you’ve locked the exposure and focus, it’s too easy to snap the shot too early by mistake. The time taken to process, compress and store the image is long enough to miss your shot. The train in the photo below should have been fully visible between the trees, but I accidentally took the shot too soon:

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A different way to miss the train

The buttons on the Optio are distinctly raised, allowing you to feel them in the dark. They are flush on the IXUS which makes them almost impossible to locate by feel: you need to instinctively know their location, which does come with practice (along with acclimatising to all the controls being in a different place compared to the previous camera).

On a positive note, using menus to select the focus and flash modes is a much better idea than the Optio’s use of the buttons to cycle through the modes in sequence. All too often with the Optio I would press the button too many times and overshoot or start back around the loop. The IXUS still lets you loop through the choices, but you can also select the next or previous choice directly if you desire.


A significant failing of this model (and perhaps many others on the market) is the poor quality of the external display. True, the DPI is acceptable and thus the picture is sharp (the 461,000 dot resolution a huge improvement over the very low-resolution 110,000 dot display on the Optio), but the LCD panel is nowhere near as good as it should be. The IXUS 285 HS was introduced in 2016 and uses what is closer to a 45% NTSC panel, in Bayer arrangement. I tested it alongside an iPhone 6, introduced two years earlier in 2014, which uses a high gamut Retina display measured to be 101 percent sRGB (around 72% NTSC). Side by side the difference is staggering, with the iPhone putting out jet blacks and vivid colours and impressive brightness in full sunlight. The display on the IXUS is under-saturated, meaning that you cannot accurately judge the effects of the settings from it. The screen can be increased in brightness but that just seems to boost the backlight and thus gives you more backlight bleed.

Now, 45% NTSC is still common on cheaper laptops and is quite awful, but crippling a camera by saddling it with a reduced-gamut display is a cruel move. Somehow this blunder seems to get overlooked in reviews, which is strange considering how many people must have visually observed the difference between their camera and smartphone displays. I don’t recall any review—of any model of camera—taking into account the quality of the display panel selected.

The display on the IXUS is of course a TN (twisted nematic) LCD panel, so it has limited viewing angle. In situations where you need to angle the camera away from your face to get the desired shooting angle, you can no longer clearly observe the display. The iPhone 6 display is IPS (in-plane switching) LCD with far superior viewing angles.

The iPhone 6 display is superb for daylight shooting, but how about under low light conditions? Liquid crystal cannot completely block light, so there is always going to be some light escaping through from the light source, known as backlight bleed. In a well-lit office this is generally not too noticeable on a desktop monitor, but in low light conditions on a camera it becomes a significant problem: your perception of exposure level on your camera will be a considerable way out.

Although desktop OLED seems to be eternally beyond the horizon, OLED has been widespread in the portable and miniature world for years. OLED and Bayer pattern go hand-in-hand, as OLED for some reason does not get on well with RGB sub-pixels. If smartphones had OLED displays before the IXUS 285 HS was released, why on earth does the IXUS not have an OLED panel?

The choice of a display panel that is too dim in bright sunlight, too unsaturated to help address the problems with white balance management and unsuitable for low light conditions raises questions not only about the IXUS but of how good the displays are on not just the more expensive compact models from Canon, Panasonic and Sony but on all cameras on the market.


So far as optics go, I am no expert. The pictures are far sharper than those of the Optio. Part of this is that Canon deemed the sensor sufficiently good that it does not need a de-noise algorithm. The Optio’s de-noise processing blurs pictures significantly. Canon simply leave the noise as-is.

In good light, sharpness is excellent, although the automatic focus is not always quite as sharp as it could be.

Pictures taken on the Optio S5z can be distinctly darker to the sides and in the corners, which necessitates complex repair processes using gradient-based level adjustment layers. The IXUS optics do darken the corners of the image sometimes but it’s not as troublesome as on the Optio.

I’ve certainly felt a concern about the sharpness of the image towards the sides or, more specifically, the “top” in portrait orientation, but I am not clear enough about what is happening to be able to explain it. In most instances it’s not a problem.

There is little curvature of straight lines close-up and none for objects further away. When shooting objects with straight lines there is still noticeable perspective distortion, meaning that you need to stand back and zoom in to remove the perspective.

The photos below are full-size (5184×3888) but re-saved to reduce file size:

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Sundon substation
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Trees in autumn
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Bedford station
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Cottage across a field
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All the lines in the photo are straight
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An example of where the focus seems to be sub-optimal

The Optio had a problem where deep blue objects would come out cyan under flash light. Although I have not extensively worked with the flash on the IXUS, there is a particular light blue bench that I pass by regularly that clearly presents a problem under natural light. The photograph on the left is how the IXUS saw the bench in the scene, while the photograph on the right is an attempt to correct the colours to be closer to how it appeared in reality.

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Original blue shade
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Adjusted to more closely match the real shade

The problem is unclear; the following two photos were taken seconds apart on another day, with identical settings, and in the latter one, the blue colour is more accurate, but the overall colour itself is more blue:

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Taken at 17:32:12
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Taken at 17:32:24

Shooting photos

Dynamic range

Dynamic range is a huge improvement over the Optio S5z. The two sensors are roughly the same size (1/2.5″ on the Optio and a slightly larger 1/2.3″ on the IXUS), yet the IXUS has four times the number of pixels (20 million versus 5 million), so the IXUS should have much worse dynamic range as a result, but the reverse is true. The sensor on the Optio is so bad that the IXUS manages to achieve much better dynamic range using pixels one quarter of the size! This was the biggest drawback to the Optio S5z: its very weak sensor.

I knew from the outset that dynamic range would be limited by the sensor size, but it holds up perfectly adequately for the specification. This is not however the kind of camera than you can point into sun and get good results; those do exist, and I have no idea what makes it possible …

The photos below depict the kinds of limitations you will encounter with this class of sensor.

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Bright skies seen through trees is a challenge, and sometimes it is far too much
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Reading Station
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The car in the background is just outside of the dynamic range
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The flower petals are overexposed but the image is not excessively harmed by it
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With careful adjustment it was possible to almost completely avoid overexposure


Broadly, contrast seems to err on the dull side. Under bright sunlight, the picture can come out too dark, yet with the shadows boosted. Under tree cover, shadows are too bright, leaving the picture looking a bit washed out. Fortunately, this is not difficult to correct afterwards. This seems to be a common problem with digital cameras. Sony cameras seem to have the same problem, and the Optio S5z was much worse. Photos from the Optio were so lacking in contrast that the damage was irrecoverable, whereas with better cameras (including the IXUS) the levels can usually (but not always) be repaired afterwards.

Automatic exposure and EV compensation

Automatic exposure calculation is not great, especially in troublesome conditions such as overcast skies and dusk. Under lower light conditions, the camera tends to overcompensate, leading to the sky appearing excessively bright. Under tree cover and under electric light, the picture comes out too bright. As noted, the backlight bleed from the display misrepresents the exposure level and the poor display gamut interferes with perception of colour saturation.

When your dynamic range is limited, you need to make good use of EV compensation to determine how you want the exposure set. This is where things start getting tricky.

For starters, EV compensation is not live. Only when the shutter is half-pressed does it get applied, except when you are in the EV compensation adjustment menu. As noted previously, there is no other way to access EV compensation, which gets tedious after a while. The old trick of aiming the camera at a different angle to influence the exposure still works but it conflicts with EV compensation since EV compensation is not previewed live.

EV compensation itself is only a suggestion. The dynamic range shown on the LCD panel is quite different to the final picture. The live preview from the sensor can show a significantly higher level of contrast than the final picture: the preview is noticeably incorrect. When you finally take the shot, the light areas darken and dark areas lighten. This means that, under tree cover in the summer for example, you can find yourself dialling all the way down to −2 EV and still can’t get the final picture to show the depths of shadows that the preview offered. Bright skies can be completely blown out to white during live preview but appear correctly as blue or grey in the final picture with nowhere near the loss of detail that the live preview suggested.

Broadly speaking, the live preview shows too much contrast but the resulting picture has too little contrast.

It’s worth noting however that the Optio S5z’s optics and image processing are so bad that images are irreparably damaged by the noise, blowouts and persistently and inexplicably weak contrast. Although photos taken on the IXUS are routinely wrong (as I have seen with other makes) the levels are not damaged beyond repair and can be corrected readily in an image editor.

White balance

White balance is a strange concept. Manual white balance exists to ensure that objects appear their correct colour regardless of the lighting source. Then you have the presets: what are they for? White balance presets offer some kind of limited attempt to convince the camera to shoot the picture the colour it actually is, which it prefers not to unless you’re under full sun. The presets think in terms of the electric lighting of the day, offering choices of Tungsten, Fluorescent and (for what appears to be a combination of daylight and electric light) Fluorescent H. These choices seldom applied to exterior lighting (which was normally low or high pressure sodium vapour—amber and pink-orange respectively—and high pressure mercury vapour), and both indoor and outdoor lighting in the UK are now more commonly LED-based.

Someone more technical than me might be able to explain why it’s not possible to simply record whatever colour light is actually present, and why the presets don’t include colour temperature options, e.g. 2700 K, 4300 K etc.

White balance in bright light is generally fine. In lower light, there is a strange tendency towards de-saturation. This is particularly bad when shooting under tree cover on a sunny day, where you see the world in colour but the camera tends towards black and white with low contrast. One workaround to this is to select the Day Light preset, which restores the colour. Selecting Cloudy on a cloudy day gives all the pictures a strange pink-yellow sunset tint for no good reason, and this damage is, for me, irreversible as I cannot restore the proper balance afterwards.

Unfortunately it’s not possible to demonstrate these tendencies without some kind of reference image to demonstrate how the scene really looked. It’s also hard to be truly sure afterwards due to the limitations of human memory and perception: the only way to be sure would be to transfer the images in situ to a device with a higher-quality display (IPS LCD or OLED) to factor out the display limitations.


Something that impressed me enormously about smartphones was their ability to effortlessly move between infinity and macro focus. The Optio S5z has a slew of focus modes available: normal (40 cm to ∞), macro (50 cm down to 18 cm), super macro (20 cm down to 6 cm), pan focus, landscape and manual focus. Zoom control is available in all modes except super macro and manual focus. Macro shots require the correct mode to be selected first: the camera cannot focus on close-up subjects that out of range of the selected mode.

The IXUS 285 HS has only three focus modes: Macro, Normal and Infinity. However, even this is not strictly true. Macro and Infinity are merely suggestions: the camera will focus on whatever it feels like. As noted above, each focus mode on the Optio restricts the focus to a range of distances. In macro mode, the Optio cannot focus on anything more than half a metre away, or anything closer than 18 cm away. This has the effect of preventing the camera from misunderstanding complex scenes. The IXUS favours more distant objects and will completely overlook a close-up object, with no possible way to instruct the camera to see it. Macro mode sometimes helps but generally does not. For example, it was impossible to get the spider in the photograph below in focus, as the camera insisted on focusing on the plants behind it.

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Too little focus to trouble arachnophobes …

Some example shots of varying degrees of close-up:

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Sycamore (Acronicta aceris) caterpillar
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Berry on the ground
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Hoverfly in a flower; the shot came out underexposed and is left uncorrected
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Honey bee
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Wild raspberries in Leagrave


I can’t be the only person who mistakenly believed that zoom factors refer to increase in area, but it’s not. 2× zoom means that an object in the frame is twice as wide and twice as tall. The gotcha however is that zoom is not an absolute quantity: the zoom factor is how much larger the image is compared to the widest angle available on the camera. The Optio’s 3× zoom means three times its widest angle of 35 mm. The IXUS’s 12× zoom means twelve times the 25 mm widest angle. The Optio’s focal length is 5.8 to 17.4 mm (35 to 107 mm in 35 mm terms) while the IXUS is 4.5 to 54 mm (equivalent to 25 to 300 mm) making the telephoto limit only three times higher than the Optio (300 mm ÷ 107 mm) rather than four times (12× ÷ 3×).

The two photos below are the very first that I ever took with the camera and demonstrate the zoom range:

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Focal length 4.5 mm (25 mm in 35 mm terms)
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Focal length 54 mm (300 mm in 35 mm terms)

The fully zoomed-in shot seems pale and lacking in contrast, but on closer inspection I discovered that (sky aside) the colour and contrast is no worse than the equivalent portion of the wide angle photograph. Some difference may simply have been changes in the positions of the clouds in the 28 seconds in between shots.

The zoom increments are a little large, making perfect shot framing a little tricky. You often want to zoom a little more or a little less to keep intrusive objects out of shot, and depending where you are standing you may have little room to move to do this by simply walking closer or further from the subject.

Otherwise, the zoom facility is good, and a welcome improvement.

Low light performance

All cameras will see a degradation of performance as the amount of ambient light diminishes. The questions are: what do you require, and does the camera perform adequately for its specification?

As noted previously, overcast conditions and tree cover result in a marked loss of contrast and saturation for no apparent reason. This is some kind of failing of the internal image processing logic, not the optics. Originally I discovered that selecting a white balance preset made a difference, but all too often this adds a yellow colour cast as though the shot were taken at sunset.

The IXUS has a colour filter setting where you will find the usual options of sepia and greyscale. This setting includes various other modes including Vivid, which enhances both the colour and contrast. The Vivid mode is a better choice to combat under-saturation, but as environmental conditions change (sun goes in and out of clouds, or you walk in and out of the shade, or the capricious digital image processor changes its mind about the scene) you will swing between restoring the missing saturation and contrast and over-saturating the image. The weak colour gamut of the external LCD makes it difficult to be sure just how saturated the image really is, and just when you should and should not be using that setting.

There is also a single custom mode for saturation, sharpness, contrast and so forth that could be selected as a compromise, but that requires experimentation to decide how best to set it.

Low-light sensitivity is huge improvement over the Optio. With the better sensor and the addition of image stabilisation, it’s possible to get a fairly good shot under just street lighting at night. However, the inability to hold the camera to your head for stability does mean that you may need several attempts at a shot to minimise the amount of blur (or if you are holding it to your head, to get the shot framed correctly). The darker the environment, the fuzzier the picture becomes. The fantastic sharpness seen under bright sunlight is slowly lost as the sun goes down.

Indoors under LED illumination (in my case, a 5000 K, 2000 lumen GLS LED bulb) the camera is over-sensitive and overexposes the shot, with no apparent way to correct for it: lower the EV compensation and the whole scene darkens. Even outdoor scenes under low light seem to get overexposed. It is just much harder to tell from the external display due to the backlight bleed. As a result, you will dial down EV compensation and finish up with an underexposed shot.

All things considered, the optics seem to hold up fine; the firmware however is a bit suspect.

Some examples follow. Noise levels are still good even in darkness, although sharpness is lost.

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Approaching Harlington at dusk
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Broadway, Mill Hill; note the overexposure glow on the illuminated signage, avoidance of which sets the upper limit of your exposure level
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Street with houses
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Flats, and facing a bright street light
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Christmas light show in Harpenden; Vivid colour mode has been used to counteract the overexposure of the lights
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Country lane under moonlight; there is no sharpness left but it was just about possible to get a steady shot without a tripod

The Christmas light show example is right on the exposure limit: proper exposure of the LED matrix display on the house would cause the sky to disappear. Here, the sky is just visible but when the display on the house scrolls around to the initial message it comes out too bright. Loss of the sky from most shots was not apparent until afterwards due to the backlight bleed on the camera’s display.

Shooting video

I have very little use for shooting video, so I have no basis on which to be able to review it from experience. With that said, I did record a little of my experience coming back from Reading on a class 387 Electrostar and the video quality seemed perfectly fine.

Comparison images

The photos below compare the Optio S5z, iPhone 6 and IXUS 285 HS. The intention was that both cameras would be left on default settings for white balance and EV compensation to demonstrate the effectiveness of automatic processing, and as the iPhone seems to have no such settings. Unfortunately, looking back I can see that I did modify the EV compensation setting on the IXUS.

The wide angle focal length differs on all three, which can be seen in the varying “zoom” of each one (35 mm on the Optio, 29 mm on the iPhone 6, 25 mm on the IXUS): none of the shots were zoomed in (since the iPhone 6 lacks optical zoom).

The full-size images are as they came off the camera, with the exception that the first two iPhone pictures have been losslessly rotated owing to problems with EXIF orientation being incorrectly set.

The first images are from pylon hunt 16 to Elstree substation:

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St Albans City Station, Optio S5z (note the lens distortion)
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St Albans City Station, iPhone 6
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St Albans City Station, IXUS 285 HS
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Sunlight and shade, Optio S5z
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Sunlight and shade, iPhone 6 (which messed up this shot and randomly ran out of battery)
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Sunlight and shade, IXUS 285 HS

I reshot the IXUS example above with +⅔ EV and included that image below to demonstrate the improved exposure:

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Sunlight and shade, IXUS 285 HS, −⅔ EV

The remaining images are from pylon hunt 17 to Bedford, with the first few depicting the charming village of Biddenham. Note that the iPhone’s white balance was way out in the sunny shots, adding an obvious yellow colour cast.

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Sunlight and shade, Optio S5z
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Sunlight and shade, iPhone 6
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Sunlight and shade, IXUS 285 HS (−⅓ EV)
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Thatched terrace, Optio S5z
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Thatched terrace, iPhone 6
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Thatched terrace, IXUS 285 HS (−⅓ EV)
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Biddenham war memorial, Optio S5z
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Biddenham war memorial, iPhone 6
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Biddenham war memorial, IXUS 285 HS (−⅓ EV)
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Biddenham village, Optio S5z
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Biddenham village, iPhone 6
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Biddenham village, IXUS 285 HS (−⅓ EV)
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Public footpath, Optio S5z
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Public footpath, iPhone 6
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Public footpath, IXUS 285 HS (−⅓ EV)
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River Great Ouse, Optio S5z
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River Great Ouse, iPhone 6
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River Great Ouse, IXUS 285 HS (−1 EV)
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Watshams DD2 pylon, Optio S5z
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Watshams DD2 pylon, iPhone 6
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Watshams DD2 pylon, IXUS 285 HS (1.9× zoom used without thinking)
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Train carriage in daylight, Optio S5z
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Train carriage in daylight, iPhone 6
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Train carriage in daylight, IXUS 285 HS
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Dynamic range test, Optio S5z
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Dynamic range test, iPhone 6
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Dynamic range test, IXUS 285 HS; note the muted colour and bright shadows
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Trees and bushes, Optio S5z
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Trees and bushes, iPhone 6
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Trees and bushes, IXUS 285 HS

The IXUS sample above was the camera’s choice of automatic exposure level; the shot below has better exposure achieved simply by aiming higher up when locking the focus and exposure, rather than setting EV compensation:

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IXUS 285 HS, improved exposure
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Macro, Optio S5z
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Macro, iPhone 6; note the soft focus in the centre
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Macro, IXUS 285 HS


My old camera would enter preview mode from power off if you held the Play button while switching it on. This offered a significantly faster start-up by neither extending the lens barrel or—seemingly—fully initialising the firmware. The IXUS makes this easier: just press the Play button to power up and enter preview mode.

It is still not obvious which way to insert the battery, although over time you develop some kind of instinct with regards inserting the battery into both the camera and the charger. Incidentally the battery charger uses a neon orange LED to indicate charging, which was an unusual choice; while you appear to be able to get LEDs in any bright colour now, you would expect something as mundane as a battery charger to use a stock red LED!

The Optio has a spring-loaded cover over the SD card/battery compartment, which the IXUS does not. This felt cheap in comparison but in reality is not a big deal.

When zooming in (either the lens or playback) the zoom control randomly sticks in the zoom-in position, either momentarily or permanently. This could be a failure of an internal microswitch under the zoom ring, but if anything it behaves like a logic error as you have to move the ring from the centre (idle) position to the zoom-out position to clear it, which you would not expect to unstick zoom-in. When it gets stuck during playback, all the controls stop responding. Initially I thought that the Menu button—which exits from zoom in playback mode—was failing, but none of the buttons respond until you clear the fault.

The aesthetics of the camera are intriguing. I have the black model. The sides are inexplicably dark grey, where sticking to black would have looked better. The lens barrel assembly has a very subtle, purple-grey ring around it, that I never even noticed until I purchased it.

Battery life is of course highly subjective. The most photos that I got from the single original battery stood unbeaten at 291 until I finally surpassed it with 336. Unfortunately, on several occasions a single battery has not been enough to cater for my seven-hour-long walks. Additional batteries are expensive: £51 from Canon and “only” £40 from Bristol Cameras. These are 800 mAh (3.7 V, 2.2 Wh). Duracell’s DRC11L is only £20 for 600 mAh, and with their offer of buying a second half price, that came to 1200 mAh for only £30! I haven’t even opened the second one, as I just use the original plus one replacement. Even that 600 mAh can be just fine but it’s good to keep both with me to ensure I never run out of juice.

Stepping through the photos that you have taken is tediously slow, even with the gratuitous animation switched off. On the Optio this process is instantaneous.


The biggest limitation of compact cameras is the lack of an eye viewfinder: a means to frame the shot and check the exposure without competing with sunlight and backlight bleed. Electronic viewfinders are available on both Panasonic and Sony models. Sony has long been on my blacklist, although I know someone with a Sony DSC-HX99 compact camera who seems satisfied Sony’s EVF implementation, and “wouldn’t be without” a camera with an EVF. Reviews of Lumix cameras find Panasonic’s EVF disappointing, although I have never been entirely satisfied that I understand why, not without experiencing it first hand.

An eye viewfinder solves an important problem: being able to hold the camera against your head to steady telephoto shots, where framing the shot gets harder the further you zoom in (and there are compact cameras with 30× zoom and beyond). The best sunlight-viewable, high gamut LCD panel will never help here.

If the Panasonic EVF is inadequate, then that removes the only real selling point of the larger cameras. The longer zoom is little use without a tripod or a fence to rest the camera on. Having a 1″ sensor is a bonus, although test shots in reviews have never demonstrated a clear improvement in dynamic range over 1/2.3″ sensors: that is something that needs a whole review of its own, to really determine how well 1″ stands up to professional sensors.

The market is fairly small, and the innovation somewhat limited. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ200 was the only possible alternative for me: 1″ sensor, EVF and 15× zoom. (The preceding DMC-TZ100 model only has 10× zoom.) However, I was mistaken in believing that the EVF was OLED: in reality it’s field-sequential LCD, leaving you to wonder whether it, too, suffers backlight bleed. However, the DMC-TZ200 is also 111 × 66 × 45 mm in size and 340 g in weight (versus 147 g of the IXUS), making it twice as large and twice as heavy, as well as being twice the price. The DMC-TZ200 costs more than a basic Canon APS sensor DSLR!

(The Sony DSC-HX99’s EVF, it should be noted, is an 0.5× OLED with 638,400 dots. The DMC-TZ200 EVF is 2.33 million dots with 0.53× magnification, while the TZ100 had 1.16 million dots. The (touchscreen) display panel on the TZ200 alone is 1.24 million dots at 3″, versus 416,000 dots on the in IXUS.)

The requirement for superzoom limits your options considerably, as many compact cameras only offer zoom in the region of 3×. Most still only have 1/2.3″ sensors. Indeed, the DMC-TZ200 is the only model with a zoom and sensor specification better than the IXUS 285 HS. It has been said that getting even 15× zoom onto a 1″ sensor in a compact camera is an achievement.

To really be sure about whether the extra cost and bulk of a larger camera is worth it, you would need a set of comparison photos similar to mine above. A good test would contrast standard Apple and Samsung smartphones against the IXUS 285 HS and DMC-TZ200 (and other relevant models such as those in the Canon and Sony compact ranges) along with DSLR and mirrorless cameras with APS and full-frame sensors. Not just photos taken from those devices, but photos taken of them to show how well the external displays hold up in bright sunlight and low light conditions. However, as noted, for me it would seem that there is only one alternative at all, and one that is potentially not as good as it could have been.


It would be nice if the adage of “you get what you pay for” were really true, but it’s not. Premium brands command disproportionately high prices, so sometimes the ideal product is somewhere in the middle. This also assumes that there are better options available at a higher price, which in the case of the IXUS 285 HS there simply aren’t: the more expensive models are all significantly larger and thus less easy to slip back into a pocket, and in many cases don’t even offer the same zoom level, let alone a larger sensor.

You could justifiably question why I would impose such a constraint in the first place: why not find a means to carry a larger camera with me? It is a good question to which I do not presently have an answer. You could also question what my objective is in terms of ownership. I only bought a replacement camera in order to be able to produce decent material for my pylon pages, although mostly it has been used—just as with my old camera—for walk photography.

For technical photography, the IXUS is fine. Not ideal, but fine. A better camera would allow for shooting into the sun when the only view you have of a particular pylon is facing the sun. For all-weather, year-round walking the IXUS definitely struggles in lower light, with frustrating problems with contrast and saturation and with portrayal of exposure level. However, for what little interest my walk photography ever generates, there has never been any concern raised with the quality of the photographs.

For now I guess the best option is to wait to see if anything more compelling comes onto the market in the future.